Why Your Body Language Can Shape Who You Are

Updated February 15, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Want To Better Understand Your Own Bodily Cues?

As the name suggests, body language can be defined as "a type of nonverbal communication in which physical behavior, as opposed to words, are used to express or convey information." Common examples of body language include facial expressions, posture, touch, and even the manner in which an individual manages the space around them. In many regards, body language can serve as a stronger form of communication than verbal language. Moreover, perceptions of body language can vary depending upon environments, upbringing, and other factors. For better or worse, the body language of individuals can shape and tell a lot about who they are.

A Close Analysis Of Body Language

Body language can speak volumes about a person’s true emotions, level of comfort, and intentions, but much of what we understand about it happens in our subconscious mind. In fact, research suggests that even a fraction of a second of exposure to facial expressions and body language can help us understand how another person feels. When we make observations and assumptions about another person’s feelings based on body language, we may be more likely to respond in a way that addresses emotion as well as words. 

Learning to understand and make use of body language, then, can be useful in all kinds of situations, including in our relationships, at home, at work, and more. There are several components of body language to consider, some of which tend to be more significant and impactful than others.

Facial Expressions

Facial expressions may be one of the biggest clues that can reveal people's emotions and dispositions. This particular form of body language is so powerful that it can motivate the brain to engage in different cognitive processes based on what is observed. 

Overall, looking at someone's face in a certain setting is often very telling of their current mood. For instance, happy people tend to smile. In contrast, someone who is discontent may frown or simply maintain a stoic facial expression. A bored individual may yawn, and someone who feels angry or impatient may grit their teeth, roll their eyes, or subconsciously tense up their facial muscles.

General perceptions regarding levels of trustworthiness and even intelligence can also be largely affected by facial expressions. Individuals who maintain eye contact while speaking may be more likely to be deemed as honest and reliable. Of course, the judgments above and others like them often occur subconsciously.

Much like the eyes, the mouth can play a critical role in body language and communication via facial expressions. Frowns are universally regarded as signs of unhappiness, while smiles are universally perceived as indicators of happiness. Many people cover their mouths when they are yawning or even laughing. Tightened mouths or lips are usually signs of disapproval, disdain, or a lack of trust. Another telling, mouth-related communicator involves lip biting. Depending on the setting and circumstances, biting one's lip can convey stress, anxiety, concern, or even sexual arousal.

Hand Gestures

Unlike (most) facial expressions, the interpretations of various hand gestures can vary, especially between different cultures and parts of the world. However, depending on the environment or setting, most hand gestures are tied to a certain meaning. 

For instance, a thumbs up is usually regarded as a nonverbal affirmation of approval, while its inverse, a thumbs down, is generally viewed as an expression of disapproval. The waving of one's hand or hands are also usually used as a way of nonverbally saying hello or goodbye. Small forms of communication like these can help reaffirm that we’re trustworthy, friendly, and non-threatening, all of which can help us connect with others.

Posture, Arms, Legs, And Space

A person’s posture is usually very indicative of their personality and feelings. For instance, standing or sitting upright generally communicates high levels of focus, interest, and attention. Conversely, slouching, being hunched over, or holding one's chin with the palm of a hand tends to convey fatigue, annoyance, disinterest, or boredom.

Allotted amounts of personal space also can send a message. Someone who feels disgusted, fearful, or annoyed with someone may back away or otherwise attempt to increase the distance between themselves and the object of their displeasure. Conversely, a confrontational or aggressive individual may invade someone's personal space. In less hostile situations, the close distance between two individuals can be indicative of an intimate or otherwise friendly relationship between the parties.

How Does Body Language Shape Who You Are?

Research has long suggested that using body language and interpreting it can alter the way we think, which can in turn impact our behavior and the consequences of the decisions we make. Smiling, for instance, can lower a person’s heart rate and reduce feelings of stress, even if the smile is fake or forced. This suggests that the brain processes the physical stimuli associated with body language and uses it as a guide for how to respond.

Want To Better Understand Your Own Bodily Cues?

As human beings, we are often creatures of habit. For this reason, most people tend to form certain postures, facial expressions, or hand gestures when emotions are high. Someone who is attempting to hide irritation may narrow their eyes and slightly purse their lips. Another person who is sad may tilt their head back to avoid tearing up. Each person may have their own unique body language cues that correspond with different emotional states. As people form relationships with one another, the process of picking up on certain emotions, even those which are concealed, often becomes easier and easier.

For better or worse, body language can impact who we are by affecting the manner in which the world sees us. A person's stance, eye contact, and hand gestures can determine whether or not they are hired, given a promotion, or asked out on a date. Body language also wields power to impact opportunities, general perceptions, and the people who wish to be around us. 

How To Learn More About Your Body Language

Although each person may generally have the power to control their body language, ongoing challenges related to using body language as intended or understanding that of others may be indicative of something larger than personal preference. Likewise, body language that seems to frequently communicate a low mood, fatigue, or a disinterest in connecting with others can point to a deeper root cause. 

Whether you’d like to learn more about how to use and understand body language or have picked up on how your own bodily cues might connect to the way you feel, outside perspective can be a crucial part of kickstarting change. Resources like online therapy can make it easier than ever to connect with a mental health professional who can offer guidance. Because you can join sessions at a time and from a place that works for your schedule and helps you feel comfortable, online therapy may be a more accessible and approachable treatment option.

Many people who pursue online therapy find that it helps them address their concerns effectively and in a way that truly fits their needs. One recent study noted that clients who engage in online therapy often feel more comfortable disclosing more over online mediums. It also observed that online distance could enhance the connection between a therapist and their patients, which may be especially ideal if the thought of in-person therapy is intimidating.


Body language can shape who we are in many regards. It may impact the manner in which others perceive us, how they interact with us, and the decisions they make that affect us. Learning to use and understand body language may help you navigate the world more effectively and confidently, even if it’s a skill that you work to develop rather than one that feels inherent.

For additional help & support with your concerns

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started